What it takes for an MBA to build a career abroad
There are three ways an Indian MBA can hope to build a career abroad but each path requires clarity and richness of work experience, says guest writer Abhishek, Director of Global Merchant Services at American Express in New York.
These days, news sources raise questions on the health of the economy and the job market across all parts of the world, especially in the United States.
This in turn makes people doubt if there is any value in studying an MBA at all and whether it would result in a lucrative job.
These questions become more intense if the student is an Asian and his dream job lies in the United States.
In my opinion, being a successful manager is challenging, involves great personal effort but it also depends a lot on what the economy is like at a given point.
What you are most passionate about, what skills you can offer and what you are willing to do to get in matters all the more in a not-so-great economy.
As an example, having no prior media experience, if I suddenly decided to work in advertising, I would need to assess if I have the right skills and whether I am willing to work my way up from the bottom, being the rookie that I am.
The author is Director, Global Merchant Services at American Express in New York. He graduated in 2000 from Symbiosis Centre for Management and Human Resource Development, Pune.
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Brand of B-school and its alumni network are invaluable
Indeed, the brand of your B-school, its alumni network and the intensity of one's relationships with classmates are invaluable.
As an MBA student, you end up learning several theoretical concepts through case studies, projects and field assignments; you are able to develop soft skills through group learning and improve your problem solving capabilities by undertaking leadership roles in college.
Beyond this, the importance of an MBA degree begins to fade.
Once you start on the job, your work experience starts to matter more and more and your MBA degree begins to matter even lesser.
For management students in India who want to work abroad, all of the above often counts more than does the brand of the B-school.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
Three ways Indians can achieve their dream
There are three standard ways in which those who want to work abroad can achieve their dream.
The first method is to get a direct recruitment into a foreign firm for an international location, which in my experience does not happen too often (only a small fraction of the class gets international placements).
The second includes internal company transfers (like in my case at McKinsey & Co).
Though such transfers have been increasing, they continue to be restricted by Chinese walls and the sometimes inferior treatment meted out to domestic Indian operations of multinational companies.
The third and most common option I have witnessed many Indians undertake in the past few years is to either study a second MBA degree from a reputed institute abroad or to study an advanced degree of specialisation.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
Top-tier schools have consistent records of int'l placements
The first step in evaluating the first option is to search out business schools that have consistent records of international placements.
Generally speaking, the top-tier schools are the ones that provide this opportunity the most.
They are also the ones with the maximum competition to get in and later on, even more intense competition for those few international assignments.
The second way is to identify companies known for a high percentage of international movements and then seek an MBA from the institutes they generally recruit from. This route is also a challenging one.
There is no preset path for international movement from domestic operations, as, like I mentioned before, they are often not treated at par with international ones.
However, if I look back now, from my Symbiosis Centre for Management and Human Resource Development (SCMHRD), Pune class of 2000, there are so many alumni who have moved to international locations through transfers.
It is a direct result of their performance and to a large extent what the MBA education turned them into.
One advantage of this path, that most people do not consider, is that the visa process is a lot easier, especially for the USA.
If you move intra-company, then the path to permanent residency is much faster than the traditional H1 visa route.
'The bigger issue is the significant investment required for a foreign MBA'
The third and relatively more secure method is to try and do an MBA from an international B-school.
This approach may not be for everyone. One still needs to compete to gain an admission.
The bigger issue is the significant investment required for a foreign MBA.
If you are evaluating this option after having done an MBA previously, you have to also consider the lost income from the existing job. The visa process is also not the easiest.
If you are targeting the most plum jobs abroad, then you have to begin by achieving great clarity on what you want to do in life and whether your current passions are going to motivate you towards them and whether you have the right skills to walk in that direction successfully.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh